Here in north central Indiana, Zone 5a (or 4b, depending upon which year, which map) it is time to plant hardneck garlic. Years ago, I began growing garlic, and have saved bulbs of “Musik” and “Spanish Red” from my annual harvest in August to plant in mid-September. However, with the new potager I have more space to experiment and compare new varieties. I researched several sites on the web that sell garlic, but most of them were already “sold out” of the varieties that I wanted to try. Darn! And I was so “on top” of that issue with the tulips and other bulbs (see It’s Tulip Time! for advice), but really dropped the ball with the garlic. I grumbled and groaned, but decided that I’d just wait until next year to try new varieties.
However, Lady Luck was on my side. Since for the first time in forever, I had a free Saturday morning, I ventured to the farmers’ market in Muncie, held each Saturday from May through October at the Minnetrista Apple Shop parking lot. I needed a cantaloupe for a fruit salad to take to a family gathering, and some apples for a pie, plus as a fourteen-year vendor at the marvelous Bloomington Farmers’ Market (when I lived in southern Indiana) I just love the atmosphere at a farmers’ market. Good memories, good smells, good people, and most of all, good produce!
I had barely entered the market, when a booth decorated with hanging braids of garlic caught my eye. I made a bee line for it, bypassing the cantaloupes, apples, and tempting baked goods. Imagine my delight upon finding wooden bins displaying 27 varieties of gourmet garlic!
There, within reach of my hand were most of the varieties I’d drooled over on the internet. No shipping costs, no fiddling with credit cards, and best of all no waiting. Instant gratification!
Abbott’s Garlic and Poultry is a family-operated farm just east of Muncie. Bill, (shown above) Shelli and their four children raise grass pastured, free range poultry and garlic. Lots of beautiful hardneck garlic. (Softneck garlic, which is most often available in groceries is not hardy in our growing zone, and has less flavor than hardneck types. The majority of the garlic sold in groceries is softneck that comes from China. I prefer to grow my own. In addition, softneck garlic has layers of small cloves, while hardneck generally has large cloves and only one layer. Picture an orange. That’s the general structural shape of a hardneck garlic bulb.) After much perusal and reading of their personal evaluations, handily posted on a card with each variety, I bought four to six bulbs of 8 varieties: Creole, Mary Jane, Inchelium Red, Romanian Red, Khabar, Killarney Red, Deerfield Purple, and Rosewood. I could hardly contain my glee! And, the entire purchase price….$18.oo, much, much less than I would have paid on the internet shops. Plus I have the satisfaction of supporting a local farmer whose stated mission is to “Answer a calling to feed our family and yours naturally produced foods free of synthetic chemicals and grown with respect for our land and our bodies.” You can contact Abbott’s Poultry & Garlic at (765) 789-6212. (Note: There is another Abbott’s Garlic on the web, but it is located in California. Do not be misled.)
Driving home, with the garlic, a fragrant cantaloupe and a bag of apples perfuming the cab of my pick-up, I mulled over the planting options in the new potager. Since garlic will be almost a permanent fixture for the coming growing season, occupying space nearly a full year, from mid-September until August, its placement deserves, well actually demands, careful consideration. Garlic makes a vertical statement and can be an important design element in the overall effect of not just the bed where it is planted, but to the entire garden. I should have worked this all out before I made my purchase, so I’d have the right amount of each variety, but I didn’t. Here’s my basket of varieties:
I sketched various patterns on my potager plan. Earlier, once I had the beds all installed, I made a to-scale drawing of the entire garden and had several copies made at the local print shop. Now I can pencil-in various options in terms of design patterns, companion planting, succession cropping, and anything else that needs consideration. I’ve found that if it doesn’t look good on paper, it never looks good in reality. Unfortunately, sometimes it looks good on paper, but still doesn’t look good in reality, but that’s another conversation. Here’s an enlarged drawing of that section of the potager:
In the end, I settled on planting the garlic (shown in green) in 6 of the large 6′ x 6′ beds, using it to visually and literally divide two of the beds into quadrants, probably separating 4 different squash plants in each bed. I think those blue-green narrow garlic leaves will play nicely with the large, lobed squash leaves and maybe the garlic will help deter squash bugs. In the other four beds, I planted the garlic in long diagonals, dividing the beds into two large triangles. I’m picturing red cabbages, broccoli, green cabbages, peanuts, or maybe fingerling potatoes filling those triangles. The larger beds are just a tiny bit more difficult to maintain, requiring a long reach. Filling them with crops that don’t have to be constantly thinned or picked or replaced often will be easier on my back.
Planting the garlic is easy. I measured to find the center of the bed, and placed a long 2″ x 6″ board across it. Using my favorite garden tool, my trusty Cobrahead digger, I made a perfectly straight shallow trench along the edge of the board. Dividing the bulbs into individual cloves, being careful not to damage each clove’s protective papery cover, and placing them pointed end up, about 2″ deep in the trench and 4″ apart was a breeze. If needed, I could stand or sit on the board. Once a row was filled, I covered it, using the Cobrahead and moved the board over 4″ for the second row, having decided that the garlic would be more visually pleasing in a double, rather than a spindly single row.
So, the garlic is planted and labeled, and I am eager to see those first dark green shoots pushing through the soil. Once they are up, I will spread a layer of worm castings around them, and then mulch the rows. Garlic does not like to compete with weeds, and appreciates a good mulch to hold in moisture during dry spells. Other than harvesting the garlic scapes next June, to prevent the plants from using energy to form flowers and seeds rather than producing larger bulbs, this crop won’t need much attention. The scapes will be tasty additions to many dishes and provide a first, early harvest before the mature bulbs are harvested in August.
It’s not too late. Even if you only have a small space, plant a patch of hardneck garlic. If nothing else, you won’t be bothered by vampires, but I predict you will never want to buy softneck garlic again.